‘We want people to come away feeling like they’ve connected with each other more.’ The Common Room(s) is offering a fresh approach to experiencing music and words. A series of eight events across the south east, supported by Arts Council England, will bring together speakers, conversation and music under one roof. Izzy Blankfield spoke to Mark Edwards about the new project:
The idea behind The Common Room(s) is simple: what can we learn about ourselves, from others?
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Brighton-based pianist, producer and composer Mark Edwards started The Common Room(s) with a few friends with this philosophy in mind. Each event will showcase music from featured guests alongside passionate speakers, who will share their insights and experiences on topics such as mindfulness, self-acceptance and ecopsychology.
Every element of the night is carefully planned. The performance space will be set up in the round, with special attention paid to sensory effects: smell, lighting and ambient noise will all play a role. Edwards tells me: “We’re trying to make it as immersive and beautiful an experience as possible. I want to create a space where people can see each other’s faces.”
Music on the night will oscillate between ambient background sounds and more prominent musical interludes. Each event will feature a mix of contemporary jazz and gentle classical music, alongside other experimental styles and original compositions – all acoustic, and curated by Edwards to complement the meditative and contemplative values behind The Common Room(s). Featured guests will perform alongside a gentle rhythm section made up of Edwards, James Osler and Oz Dechaine.
“Often we receive music just as noise pollution. A lot of things get in the way,” Edwards says. “There’s an amazing power that we don’t often tap into. I want people to feel that the music can nourish them, that it can reorder their emotions.”
The music at The Common Room(s), therefore, is not so much a performance as something for people to soak in and digest. The tranquil, dimly lit event space will draw on the conviviality that comes from an intimate jazz gig, where the audience is completely drawn in. People are invited to soak in the music in any way they feel; yoga mats are encouraged.
Over the coming months, six events are planned in Brighton at the Brighton Unitarian Church, each with a different theme. In November, the Birley Centre in Eastbourne will host a whole weekend of events with different speakers and musicians.
The inaugural event, entitled ‘Everything is Extraordinary’, took place on Sunday 2 July, hosted by author, journalist and seasoned interviewer Cole Moreton. Moreton spoke about the different people who have inspired him throughout his life and career, before opening up the space into a group discussion, giving the audience the chance to reflect on the remarkable people who have shaped their own lives. After a short break, classical and jazz singer Heather Cairncross and cellist Matthew Forbes treated the audience to an improvised exploration of works by Fauré, Messiaen and Richard Strauss.
Later events will welcome other high profile jazz musicians including saxophonist Alan Barnes.
Contemporary dancer and disability activist Annie Edwards will share the stage with jazz vocalist and music therapist Lou Beckerman for the second event, entitled ‘Enter the Now’, on Sunday 6 August. Questions such as what music and dance can do for people therapeutically, and how our relationship with our bodies can change, will form the centre of the wider discussion. Music on the night will be led by Bansuri player Kate Hogg, in a fusion of Western improvised and Indian music.
Events in the autumn include ‘Of Hope and Endurance’ on 15 October and ‘A Way of Natural Being’ on 12 November. The final event of this year’s series, ‘Home’, will take place on 10 December.
Looking ahead, Edwards hopes to invite people from different spiritual practices to talk about experiences that are common to all of us. Through poetry, sound and dialogue, he tells me, he wants to explore what spirituality means for different people.
“It’s in these small intimate gatherings that it’s easiest to build community and connections,” Edwards explains. “The music, the conversations, the different perspectives: they can show us how to live more sustainably and kindly, how to be more aware and understand each other’s experiences on a deeper level.”
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Start time: 6.45pm. Venue: Brighton Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton BN1 1UF